Monday, March 16, 2015

Bigotry or Stupidity? Which Is It For Homophobic Fashion Designers?

by Dick Mac

The acceptance of gay marriage and non-traditional families by decent people is a sign of wonder, and shows that God's grace touches all who are open to it.  Those who oppose gay marriage and non-traditional families are not decent people.

When people wave the flag of "free expression" to defend their bigotry, one thing is clear:  they've been caught expressing bigoted views.  Many believe that draping themselves in the mantle of "freedom" will draw attention away from their stupidity and turn their victims into the bad guys.

A gay couple who design clothes for a living recently said that (and I paraphrase) gay people shouldn't have children, non-traditional families are bad, and that IVF produces less-than-dignified children.  Actual quotes include these gems:
"We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed."  
"You are born to a mother and a father – or at least that’s how it should be. I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog."
"The family is not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging."
These statements are pretty ordinary opinions and are held by billions of small-minded people from all walks of life.  Fortunately, billions of open-minded people from all walks of life do not hold such narrow views of the world.

Some relatively famous people are upset about this and have joined a boycott of the clothing line.

The bigots then frame the debate this way (this from often-misguided The Guardian newspaper):

  • Is it right to boycott them because of their remarks?
  • Are they just exercising their freedom of expression?

Hey, stupids:  that is not a logical comparison of the matters at hand.  We all agree they have the right to express themselves.

This is how the surveys make sense:
  • Do you agree with these clothing designers' position on families?
  • Do you disagree with these clothing designers' position on families?
Or . . .
  • Are they good people for expressing these views about non-traditional families?
  • Are they bad people for expressing these views about non-traditional families?
Or . . .
  • Do you think non-traditional families should be treated the same way as traditional families?
  • Do you think non-traditional families should be treated differently than traditional families?
Or . . .
  • Do you plan to boycott the clothing line because of their remarks?
  • Do you plan to support the clothing line in spite of their remarks?
These questions actually give us insight into public opinion.  Mixing up the actual remarks with a technical question about freedom is not a valid discussion.  Yet, the bigots and their apologists get away with it all the time!

Don't argue with bigots.  Point at them and laugh, shake your head and walk away slowly.

Bigots aren't stupid people, they are bad people.  Treat them as such.

#BoycottDolceGabbana






Sunday, March 08, 2015

The Bells


by Dick Mac

Google
I grew-up in a relatively not-so-well-to-do section of Boston.

Mission Hill, in Roxbury, was a predominantly Irish Catholic community through the mid-1960s and changed, along with all major cities in the North, during the Great Migration.  As a child, I lived at three different addresses in Mission Hill:  26 Oregon Court, 157 Calumet Street, and 104 McGreevey Way.  My mother was from Hillside Street and my father was from Kempton Street.  We were a Mission Hill family.

Used without permission.
I went to the local parochial school, and attended Mass at the Mission Church, which is actually The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Situated halfway up the Hill, between the pumping station beneath the projects and the open fields at the top of the hill, the twin spires of Mission Church loomed large over my childhood.  Looking up the hill from Oregon Court, they were (and remain), a stunning architectural vision.

I hated going to church as a kid. My earliest memories are of the Mass being said in Latin and the only thing I found interesting was reading along as the service slowly moved forward.  I remember the responses being in green text, but someone recently insisted to me that they were in red.  Aurally, the only thing I remember is "Et cum spiritu tuo."  That was changed, sometime around 1966, to "And also with you." Today, we say "And with your spirit."

You see, I may have despised attending Mass in 1965, but I quite like it now.  I am into communion, whether it is religious or social, whether gathered for worship or hedonism.  I like being with people.  Let's listen to Father Robert or David Bowie, as long as we're doing it together!

There were a lot of priests, brothers and sisters at Mission Church.  The campuses surrounding the Basilica were impressive:  rectory, convent, grammar school, junior high school (the Guild building), theater (St. Alphonsus Hall), and garden.  Then up the hill, on Alleghany Street was the high school and another convent.  The church, physically, psychologically, and spiritually, was a huge presence.  For many, it still is.

For me, in the 1960s, this was "church." This was where you went on Sundays and where you received the sacraments, and where you went to school.  It wasn't really anything special to me.  Everyone I knew:  all my relatives, all my friends, everyone I'd ever met, went to some church or temple.  My cousins on the other side of Roxbury went to St. Patrick's, when my grandmother moved she went to St. Thomas Aquinas, my godmother went to St, Theresa's, and on and on and on.

I assumed everybody's church looked like mine.  I didn't know a basilica from a cathedral from a chapel.  I didn't know an "apse from a hole" as some non-church-going relative once said at a Sunday dinner.

I wish I could remember when and where this was:  I attended Mass with another Catholic family in some suburb in the early-1970s and it all looked rather plain, rather Protestant.  It was wood, not stone or brick, and it was only one story high.  It was downright humble, and that wasn't a notion I'd ever associated with the Catholic Church.  In my mind as a child, catholicity was directly connected to grandiosity, those notions were inseparable.  Sometimes today, they still are.  I love big, overbearing churches.  The more details, statues, stained-glass and unique architectural features, the better.

I wanted my religion big, not humble, because that's what I knew.  Even to this day, I prefer large, ostentatious churches to small humble churches.  I don't think this directly affects my spiritual condition, but it might.

In the twin spires at Mission Church, were the bells. Twelve of them, and they had names:

  • Our Lady of Perpetual Help; 4,200 lbs.
  • St. Joseph; 3,000 lbs.
  • St. Patrick; 2,100 lbs.
  • St. Alphonsus; 1,800 lbs.
  • St. Clement Hofbauer; 1,600 lbs.
  • St. John; 1,280 lbs.
  • St. Francis Xavier; 930 lbs.
  • St. Gerard Majella; 820 lbs.
  • St. Michael; 710 lbs.
  • St. Gabriel; 600 lbs.
  • St. Florian; 450 lbs.
  • St. Cecilia; 360 lbs.

Every fifteen minutes, the bells chimed the Westminster Quarters, which on the hour were followed by the Big Ben count noting the hour (it really did go on and on at Noon).  (Hear an example of the chimes at this link). 

Those spires and those bells are inspirational.  Whatever your conclusion,

I've never heard anybody, of any faith or belief, visit Mission Church or hear those bells and say "Meh!"  It is an impressive, awesome piece of Boston history.

Like all urban Catholic churches in the United States, Mission Church no longer has the income required to maintain it's impressive campus.  White, working-class Catholics like my family abandoned the neighborhood during or right after the Great Migration, to pursue the American Dream of home ownership, becoming middle-class, and living around people who looked like them.

Some urban parishes were saved in the 1980s by the migration of Latino Catholics; but the flight of second-generation European families has had in irreversible impact.  In major cities coast-to-coast, urban Catholic parishes are still merging or closing altogether.

This five-decades long contraction has been amazing to watch, especially because in the past three decades American Catholics have become so very, very Christian:  which seems to mean imposing religious beliefs via law instead of behaving towards fellow human beings in a Christ-like manner.  One no longer needs to go to church or belong to a parish to be an American Catholic, one just needs to attend a tea party, own a gun, and suffer the mantle of constitutionality.

OLPH Basilica, Mission Church.
Laura Bill, 2013
Back in Mission Hill, parish buildings that were once important landmarks for the community have been closed and/or rented to the highest bidder.  The Basilica thrives as a tourist destination, as opposed to a house of worship, and some former parishioners send donations.  Generally speaking, though, specific projects cannot be funded through conventional means.  The money just isn't there.

A few years ago, commemorative paving bricks were sold in the rectory garden to raise money.  When I had the chance to finally visit the garden and see the brick purchased in my mother's memory, I was saddened to see how few bricks were there.  This parish was huge, there were a hundred kids in each grade at the school, every year, for decades.  We got great educations for very short money.  I was shocked at how few participated in that campaign.  I mean, I am a wacky leftist and I don't go around talking about Christian values, but I see the importance of this institution in my life and the lives of so many others.  This is an important site, an important part of Boston history.  I don't recall what was done with the money from the paving bricks, but I doubt the campaign left the bank accounts swollen.

The bells.

The bells are in tough shape and need to be repaired.

During the last major renovation of the Basilica in the 1980s, an automated system was put in place, and that appears to be in good working order (but for how long?). The bolts that hold the bells in place require immediate attention to the tune of more than ten thousand dollars (pun intended).

The parish does not have this money, and they need it.

A fundraising campaign is in place.  A small donation by a lot of people is just as effective as a large donation by a few people.

If you have the means, a donation would very much help save this important piece of architectural Boston.  Even if you do not have or feel a religious, cultural or political affiliation with this project, I ask that you donate here, for me:

Help Save the Bells!




Monday, January 05, 2015

TV Show at City Winery, New York City, Saturday, January 3, 2015


by Dick Mac

Tony Visconti is the most talented and famous person you think you've never heard of.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1944, as a teenager became a professional musician in New York City.  He moved to England during the British Invasion and landed smack dab in the middle of some of the most exciting and innovative musical happenings in history.

Probably best known for his work with David Bowie, especially as producer of the "Berlin Trilogy," I was first exposed to him as the producer of the T.Rex album "Electric Warrior" (a record that changed my life).

He has produced records for Tyrannosaurus Rex (which became T.Rex), Apple Records artists The Iveys, Mary Hopkin, and Badfinger, David Bowie, The Strawbs, Gentle Giant, Tom Paxton, Sparks, Argent, Iggy Pop, Thin Lizzy, Rick Wakeman, Boomtown Rats, The Stranglers, Elaine Page, Difford & Tilbrook, Altered Images, Adam Ant, Modern Romance, The Moody Blues, Prefab Sprout, Kristeen Young, Morrissey, Angelique Kidjo, Alejandro Escovedo, and many, many more.

He also provided orchestral arrangements for Paul McCartney's only listenable LP, "Band On The Run."

He is a bass player and singer in his own right.  Recently, he loaned his humble prowess to the creation and production of a live performance aptly titled "The TV Show" and performed at City Winery, in New York City.


His band was a very New York line-up:

Richard Barone (The Bongos), co-producer, guitars, vocals.
Gerry Leonard (Spooky Ghost, Suzanne Vega, David Bowie), guitars.
Dennis Diken (The Smithereens), drums.
Joe McGinty (Loser's Lounge), keyboards.
Peter Hess (Bang On A Can, Slavic Soul Party), sax, flute.

The singers equally amazing:

Suzanne Vega
Nikia
Kiah Victoria
Larkin Grimm

All the songs to be performed were connected  to Tony Visconti as either a producer, singer, writer or musician.  I guess that narrowed it down to about 3,000 songs, nineteen of which were promised this night.

City Winery is one of the best venues in New York City.  They have a ticketing system that allows you to pick your seat, and as the city's only fully-functioning winery, it offers an impressive wine list and delicious menu.

After a meal of pork belly, guacamole with feta, lobster pasta and hangar steak followed by fresh donuts with ice cream and a cup of coffee, we were ready for a show.

The band took the stage and after a few tunings and remarks from Visconti, the show began:

A New Career In A New Town (Bowie).  This instrumental is the opening cut from "Low," perhaps David Bowie's most influential and creative record, and certainly a masterpiece.  The original was produced by Visconti in France and was the beginning of the "Berlin Trilogy."  They didn't miss a beat that you could discern.  All the musicians played with the sound of admiration and awe in each beat, strum, stroke, key, and chord.

The show continued with Rock 'n Roll With Me (Bowie/Peace), from the Diamond Dogs LP.  It's a beautiful song and was sung beautifully.

Next, Richard Barone tackled You Have Killed Me (Morrissey), and I liked this version more than the original.  I have heard, and heard of, Barone for many years; but I'd never seen him perform.  Elvis Presley is a common milestone on which we criticize, compare, and count musicians and singers.  In this case, if Elvis Presley had come after David Bowie, he would have danced onstage like Richard Barone.  Barone can move his hips while singing, and he moves them well.  I have one question for my friends, associates and colleagues:  Why didn't you guys tell me that Barone was so friggin' hot?

There is only one Paul McCartney album I can listen to:  Band On The Run.  It is the only McCartney record that rocks, has a rock n roll sound, has depth, is dynamic the way a rock record should be.  I could never figure out why it was so different from all his other records.  Well, when McCartney released the 30th Anniversary edition of the album, he gave credit where credit was due and listed Tony Visconti as the orchestral arranger.  THAT explains why Band On The Run is so good:  Tony Visconti was the arranger!  Since this was a pretty famous project and had some pretty big hits, it makes sense that one of those songs would be selected.  This night, the lovely Kiah Victoria sang Jet (McCartney/McCartney).  Victoria is a striking presence on stage with a big voice, a big smile, big hair, a big presence, major style, and majorly big talent.  A student at NYU's Clive Davis School of Music, she is a student (protege?) of Barone's.  She belted out Jet like it was no body's business and made it acutely obvious that more women should sing that song.  The lyrics are insipidly McCartney-esque, but there is a range to it that Kiah Victoria brought to life.

The third album of Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" was "Lodger," perhaps the most under-rated rock album in history.  Even people who tell you they love David Bowie seem to know nothing about this influential record. Every rock star and musician knows it, but your average music consumer seems to have missed it.  Kiah Victoria, along with the band, sang Boys Keep Swinging (Bowie/Eno) in a strong, solid straight-forward manner.  As Visconti pointed out when introducing the song, this is very much a "boy" song; and it was great to hear it sung by a girl.

I had never heard of Nakia.  He is a young singer who flew in from Austin, Texas, to perform as part of The TV Show.  he took center stage to sing the lead on Young Americans (Bowie).  He did a magnificent job, and Peter Hess did not disappoint playing that amazing sax part originated by David Sanborn some forty years ago.  See it here:  Young Americans, Nakia, The TV Show

Yet Another Midnight (Visconti/Barone).  Barone and Visconti are made for each other.  If this isn't a professional love fest, then I've never seen one.  They complement each other wonderfully, both with a humble yet large stage presence.

How has Larkin Grimm stayed under my radar?  What a  voice! Visconti told the story of seeing her perform for the first time, and his surprise that she knew about Tyrannosaurus Rex.  She sang Dove (Bolan) and the always popular She Was Born To Be My Unicorn (Bolan).  She has an unassuming presence when singing backup, but she glows when taking the lead.

Dennis Diken, of The Smithereens, sang Beautiful Daughter (Wood), which is not an easy song to sing.  He has an excellent stage presence and a strong voice.  I'll bet that after singing it a few more times, it will flow with ease.

In 1974, I watched David Bowie sing Sweet Thing (Bowie) live in concert at the Music Hall in Boston. Since that day I have waited and waited and waited for him to do it again. And I have seen him in concert many, many times. And he has not ever sung it again.  It's a really hard song to sing; it was written by Bowie for Bowie. It's not your standard pop hit that gets covered over and over by anyone and everyone. Considering the vocal acrobatics and the lyrical content of the song, it takes a brave and adventurous soul to undertake a live performance.  Richard Barone put on his leather gloves, took off his shirt, and showed us his set smells like a street, in a bold, passionate rendition of this homoerotic ride though the demi-monde.  He succeeded at bringing the song and its spirit to life -- no easy feat.

Never in a million years did I think I would watch Suzanne Vega sing The Man Who Sold The World (Bowie)!  Since being covered by new wavers and grungers over the past 30 years, TMWSTW has earned a spot in the pantheon of rock standards.  Vega did not disappoint.  Strong vocals, a self-assuredness in her stature that I must admit I do not see enough in her live performances, and an unbridled enthusiasm made this a highlight of the evening.  Sure, it's hard to go wrong with a singer of Vega's stature; but, she went above and beyond.

I think a very small group of my friends in Boston were the only ones to pay any attention to the movie and soundtrack "Breaking Glass."  It was so obscure, even to me, that I had no idea that Visconti was involved.  He told great stories about the writing, producing, arranging and recording of of the soundtrack at the same time the movie was being filmed. Tonight's offering from that soundtrack was Will You (O'Connor).

The evening began to peak when everyone sang along with Visconti to Fashion (Bowie) and "Heroes" (Bowie/Eno).  You knew the night was coming to an end, but the exuberance was enough to get people singing along.  You knew it would be the final songs, but nobody seemed to mind, everything seemed so spontaneous.

The encore was two T.Rex songs (of course):  Oh Baby (Bolan) and the early glam anthem Get It On  (Bang A Gong) (Bolan). The encore was raucous and spiraling and it felt like it wasn't going to end.

Special mention has to be made about the stellar performance of Gerry Leonard on every song.  As David Bowie's bandleader, Leonard has become expert in the nuances of glam rock.  He was on fire.  Invisible most of the show, sitting behind the backup singers, he tore it up.

It is my sincerest wish that Visconti and Barone do The TV Show again.  It's even OK with me if it's the exact same line-up of talent and songs.


I failed to discuss two other songs that were performed:  Ballrooms Of Mars (Bolan) and Your Wildest Dreams (Hayward).  Suffice it to say that both were done with the same aplomb and enthusiasm afforded all the other songs.




Thursday, November 27, 2014

In Spite of Being Predictable . . .

by Dick Mac



Have a Very Funky and a Very Happy Thanksgiving!



   

Sly & The Family Stone

Midnight Special
Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (1974)



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This is the conundrum about the "Ferguson Verdict" for me


by Dick Mac

(1) You can't very well prosecute a cop for doing his job

(2) Cops work for employers that allow and promote the harassment, imprisonment, and murder of young black men.

An exaggeration?  I don't think so.

One only needs to look at or read the "news" to know that deadly force is used disproportionately against black men than white men, and that minor infractions are dealt with more harshly for black men than white men.

The problem is systemic, the problem is societal.  We place less value on the lives of young black men than other young men.  Black men are arrested for infractions for which a white men would never be arrested, probably never even stopped and questioned.

The police cannot change as long as our social policies and mores allow and/or promote this.  We all allow this.  Every single one of us is responsible for this.  And if you think you "support the cops," you are doing them and yourself no favor by pretending that this is not a real problem.

Why?

In the big picture, we all "support the cops."  Even the people who are systematically harassed by the police will tell you they know that police have to exist and generally do a good job.  There are very few sociopaths who will tell you they are opposed to policing, to police forces.

The difference is, some people who "stand by the cops"  know that the criminal justice and law enforcement system is rigged against young black men and some of us who "stand by the cops" think that is a fallacy.

It is not a fallacy.

We live in an economy where one of the the biggest growth industries is incarceration:  imprisonment for profit.  The increase in prison population to fuel this growth industry is disproportionately young men of color.  This is real.  The numbers prove it.  Black men are imprisoned for minor infractions at a far greater rate than white men.

It's very very sad that Michael Brown is dead.  It's even sadder that his death will be in vain because another unarmed black young man will be shot for no infraction or a minor infraction any moment now. It may have just happened as you read this and we both know it.

You can't prosecute a cop for doing his job, but you can demand his employer change its policies and tactics.  Who is that employer?  That employer is you!

Unless you are willing to change and do something about it, nothing will change.